Good-bye, MoCA

I want to assure everyone that I did not get lost on my way home from North Adams. I did, however, arrive home later than expected Thursday and, unfortunately, yesterday involved a couple of family members being under the weather, so I didn’t get to post. I’m happy to report that people are feeling better today, so I will try to sneak this post in.

After the excitement of the reading and our discussion afterward, I wasn’t ready to sleep, so I stayed up late writing this blog post. When I did finally get to sleep, I didn’t stay that way, waking to write a concept/poem for my collection and the beginning of an unrelated poem. These may or may not turn out to be useful. Some middle-of-the-night ideas work; others, not so much.

We all spent a good chunk of Thursday morning packing and moving out of our apartments. We met back at our studios, where we were allowed to stay into the afternoon, and enjoyed our last lunch together in the cafe.

Then, the good-byes started, as three of our members needed to head for home.

Fortunately, five of us were able to stay until mid-afternoon, so we decided to do one last workshop session. The others graciously offered to review the beginning of my collection with me. They gave me lots of great feedback, some specific and some general, that I will use as I continue to work on the manuscript, which may also be changing its title.

One of the necessary skills that I am still developing is the ability to balance the diverse comments from other poets with my own sense of my work.  I am much, much better with it than I was when I first started, but looking at issues specific to manuscripts as opposed to each poem in isolation adds another layer to the enterprise.

At the moment, I am thinking about developing a new order for the poems after the Boiler House Poets finish weighing in before sending it out to some of my other poet friends for further comment.

Of course, there is also the issue of finding time and brain power to devote to revision back in the face of day-to-day life, which is… let’s just say, complicated. Still, I want very much to have the manuscript ready to submit to presses and/or contests before the Boiler House Poets next reunion, which we hope will be in early fall of 2018.

Can I do it?

Time will tell.

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MoCA birthday

Today was the last full day of our Boiler House Poets second reunion residency at MASS MoCA.  We packed it as full as we possibly could with poetry and camaraderie, knowing we will have to scatter to the winds tomorrow.

And it was my birthday.

Some highlights:
* I wandered the grounds before the museum opened this morning. The Boiler House gate was open and the sound installation was operating; I got to experience it alone, walking all the way up to the top where I could look out over North Adams and MoCA, including all the solar panels. Alone – except for the pigeons who roost in the Boiler House, several of whom I startled into flight as I wandered.

* I did a walking meditation in the John Cage/Merce Cunningham Bridge with its current sound installation, In Harmonicity, the Tonal Walkway, by Julianne Swartz. For the second time this week, the art has brought me back to my first semester of music theory at Smith, as the installation is a form of musique concrète. The 13:40 minute loop is composed entirely of recorded human voices. This work inspired Marilyn McCabe, the Boiler House poet who conceived and produced our collaborative videopoem last year, to envision a sound project this year. We each recorded a short segment based on a single word for her today. Stay tuned for the final product when it is available.

*There have been so many lovely birthday wishes and supportive comments today. Life has been so complicated over these last months that there were times today that I felt overwhelmed. I would not have made it through without the support of my poet-friends here and the well-wishes that arrived today from family and friends. Thank you all so much.

*And our reading! Ever since the lead-up to the inaugural Tupelo residency that brought the Boiler House Poets together two years ago, I have wanted to do a public reading in North Adams. Because this is my home area and I have written quite a few poems about it (and just this week have organized the poems into the first draft of a manuscript), it felt like the right place to share some of those works. I also wanted to offer people here the chance to hear the work of the Boiler House Poets, each of whom is dedicated to her craft and to sharing her unique voice.

We presented our reading at Makers’ Mill, the art-space where we had taken our printmaking class over the weekend. Kate Carr, the former director of Makers’ Mill, graciously served as our organizer and accepted our invitation to read with us, as she is a poet as well as a visual artist. We were pleased that we had a receptive and attentive audience in attendance and that we had to quickly set up more chairs from the supply closet to accommodate everyone!

It especially warmed my heart to have my friends and family in attendance. Cousin S was there and my high school friend who hosted me for Sunday dinner. I was excited and amazed that a woman that I worked with over summers when I was in college came with her husband. I had not seen her since 1981. We have kept in touch with Christmas cards and notes over the years, but, because we aren’t connected over social media and neither of us are the type to send photographs, we didn’t have a visual reference for our middle-aged selves; still, I recognized her within seconds. I was deeply grateful to have four people there who are part of the community at large and was pleased that they liked my poems.

Poets are sometimes accused of writing predominantly for other poets. I don’t think that it is true of most poets, but I am sure that it is not true for me. I think of myself as a community poet and I think that most of my poems are not intimidating for general readers. Most people in the United States didn’t have much exposure to poetry in school, or, worse, came away with the feeling that they couldn’t possibly understand it because they didn’t arrive at the same interpretation as their textbook.  I don’t want anyone to be afraid of poetry! I loved that our reading had a range of kinds of poetry that could be experienced on many levels. I know there were people in the room who could name the poetic devices being employed and appreciate the choice of particular words and sounds and knew the poetic forebearers of the style, etc. and there were people who just knew how each poem made them feel about gardens or good-byes or mocha sundaes. And it’s all good.

*After the reading, we poets stayed up talking and eating. I stopped into The Hub and got a mocha sundae to go as my birthday treat. Not as good as the old Apothecary Hall mocha days, but acceptable.

And, yes, the poem about mochas was one of mine.

MoCA Monday

I started the day with steel cut oats and a hot caramel at Brewhaha, a fun cafe on the same block as our apartments. I got in the studio early, revised the poem I workshopped yesterday, updated the manuscript with the changes, and started doing timings for prospective poems for our reading on Wednesday. Somewhere in there, I was momentarily on Facebook when I saw the news of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It reminded me of our initial residency here at MASS MoCA, which coincided with one of the big Paris attacks. I lift my thoughts and prayers on behalf of all the dead and injured, their family and friends, those caring for the wounded, and our woundedness. The world is swallowed in destruction and sorrow and it is so much harder to take when human beings perpetrate violence.

I allow myself a bit of time to mourn; then, try to turn back to art.

I was anxious to visit Building 6, which opened a few months ago. I wanted to go right at opening time for the day, but had forgotten that MoCA had already switched to off-season hours, which meant not opening until 11:00. I went back to the studio and followed instructions that daughter E had thoughtfully sent me on how to create a table of contents in google docs. And it worked! I had to do a bit of editing, but I now have a table of contents which can be refreshed to correct itself when I make changes.

I tried to experience as much of Building 6 as I could in the time available. I was amazed by James Turrell’s light installations. The work of Jenny Holzer is devastating. I loved the Gunnar Schonbeck instrument collection, especially the ones we were allowed to play. It was interesting how many of the instruments used organ pipes, albeit in unconventional ways. There was also a piano string assembly, which reminded me of my 20th century theory class at Smith and the concept of prepared piano. I had a lot of fun plucking and creating glissandos on the open strings.

The most striking thing for me, though, was the building itself. I have seen the exterior of this building throughout my life, built into the point where the two branches of the Hoosic meet. At the prow, there are now large windows, allowing an expansive view of the melding of the river. I found myself drawn to the windows along the sides of the building, as well. These are the old mill windows. Many of the panes show that glass is still a liquid, as you can see the waviness of the glass caused by the passage of time. I also love the old wood, brick , and stone. MASS MoCA understands that appeal and features exhibits of both old and new artistic renderings of the building itself.

The later part of the afternoon was taken up with workshopping, which is always so informative and enlightening for me. I love the work that everyone is doing and learn so much for everyone’s poems and comments.

After dinner, we had a special treat. Marilyn read the chapbook she is developing to us. So amazing! We are planning to workshop if with her tomorrow, but people couldn’t help but get a head start tonight.

More tomorrow.

MoCA Sunday

Sorry for the pun-ny title. It’s late and I couldn’t resist.

The day started early. I woke up with a poem that I had been mulling forming in my head, so I grabbed my laptop and started writing. Although most of my poems are short, this one is significantly longer. I worked for a couple of hours, slept a bit more, woke again, and finished the draft, all before 7:00.

I went to the studio and finished my first attempt at ordering the poems for my collection before heading to 8:30 Mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, directly across from MASS MoCA. It used to be called St. Anthony’s and was my Nana Giacapuzzi’s church, a fact which appears in one of the poems in my collection.

After church, I went back to the studio, intending to visit the newly opened Building 6 when it opened, but I had forgotten that the museum doesn’t open until 11:00 on Sunday. I looked at the pile of pages that now constituted my manuscript sitting on the corner of my studio table and began the tedious job of copying them into a single google doc. I also needed to do a bit of editing from a prior critique.

I decided that I would wait to visit Building 6 tomorrow, when I will have more time to experience the art and write about the pieces that inspire words.

I’m pleased to say that I got my document assembled before our 12:30 group lunch. I am happy to have a start, but have a ton of work to do, assembling the table of contents; writing an introduction, acknowledgements, and notes; re-arranging, editing, adding, cutting poems; and then figuring out to whom I should submit the manuscript.

We had a lively discussion at lunch, took a brief break, and then re-convened in the studio for workshopping. I got lots of great ideas for revisions of a poem in my collection. (See above paragraph – editing.)

I confess that I cut out a bit early to visit a friend of B and mine from our high school days in North Adams. Bonus: her husband is a retired chef, who made a fantastic pork tenderloin with fruit for dinner. We caught up on each other’s news, took a walk, and talked some more. I showed her lots of photos of Baby ABC, who she has not yet met. Maybe later in the fall.

I returned to our apartments in time for a discussion among the Boiler House Poets of experiences with manuscript reviews, conferences, online courses, and publication. I love to hear about all these possibilities; maybe, some year or other, I will try one or another of them out.

And now, time to publish this post and get some sleep.

And while I don’t have a poem about MoCA Sundays, I do have one about mocha sundaes.

Boiler House Poets’ second reunion begins

Whilst I have been busy with grandbaby ABC and my parents and the fall activity start-up schedule, I have also been preparing for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets at the Assets for Artists residency program at MASS MoCA in North Adams MA. You can read about our first residency as the initial group of poets in the partnership between Tupelo Press and MASS MoCA in my archives for November 2015 and our first reunion in early October of 2016.

I should probably rephrase that. I should have been preparing, but I was too distracted with everything else going on, so I threw things together last night and this morning, complicated by my printer still thinking it is British rather than American and not being able to cope with printing on 8.5×11 inch paper.

Even though my older sister has arrived to help my parents and B is back from his business trip to help E care for ABC, it was very difficult to leave, but fortified by hugs and kisses from E and a last snuggle with ABC, I set off for the 200-mile drive back to North Adams.

I grew up near North Adams and went to high school there, so it does feel like coming home when I visit, yet, so much has changed that it feels like there are discoveries to be made, too. I am looking forward to visiting the expansion of MASS MoCA that has opened since our last reunion. And there is no shortage of work to be done.

Today, though, was about re-establishing bonds with the other poets and greeting a new member, as well as a visual artist who is also participating in a residency this week. We had a lovely welcome dinner together at Grazie, which is just below our apartments. We talked and talked and ate and talked and had gelato and talked some more, catching up on what has happened over the last year and laying the groundwork for our time together this year.

Stay tuned…

MASS MoCA, North Adams, and me

As we prepare for the second reunion of the Boiler House Poets later this month, our poet-organizer Kay sent this video from the PBS NewsHour about MASS MoCA and city of North Adams:  

Well, she sent it over a month ago, but I am just getting to it and this post…

Much of the piece concentrates on the intersection of MASS MoCA and North Adams history. The interview with Mr. Sprague especially struck me, as he wove together his family/business history with the larger story of the area.

When the Boiler House Poets re-convene, I am planning to spend at least some share of my studio time trying to assemble my first manuscript, a collection of poems tentatively entitled Monroe MoCA.  It weaves together my family history in North Adams and the surrounding small towns with the changes that have taken place over the decades and ends with a group of ekphrastic poems about pieces of MASS MoCA art.

For the first time, this year the Boiler House Poets will be giving a public reading, Wednesday, October 4, at 7 PM at the Makers’ Mill on Main Street. I will use my time to read a few poems from the collection.

I have been dreaming about this collection for almost two years and am excited/anxious/daunted by the prospect of actually piecing it together.

Wish me luck…

poetic convergence

On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:

Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House 
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.

The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.

The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)

After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.

Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.

Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.